I was seriously (seriously) bummed to read today that The Daily Universe is discontinuing its daily print edition, moving to a weekly print format (“The Weekly Universe”?) and increasing the emphasis on its digital component.
I’m sure this makes total sense, given the current media landscape that BYU’s journalism students are graduating into. Traditional print skills like copyfitting and page design/layout aren’t as crucial as they once were—certainly not as crucial as search-optimization and multimedia-reporting skills. A friend of mine in the Comms department at BYU told me the change was necessary because of the resources involved in “feeding the beast” and keeping a daily print edition on schedule. I get it.
Here at BCC, we like to poke fun at The Daily Universe with features like Police Beat Roundtable. But all jokes aside, several of the BCC permas got their first taste of ink-stained wretchedness while working for The Universe, and I’ve seen a couple of good backlist discussions today about the value of our experiences there.
In fact, of the various newsrooms I’ve worked in at daily newspapers and national magazines, The Daily Universe’s was by far the most efficient and well run. I worked there as a reporter and editor back when it was still located in The Wilk, and it was a well-oiled, well-inked machine with over 100 students involved. I’ve come to realize that the energy in that newsroom isn’t easy to replicate in the professional world, and it originated from two sources:
- Nightly print deadlines. The entire newsroom pulsed to the rhythm of our print cycle;
- The fresh taste of exposure. All we had to do was take the elevator down to the CougarEat to see our work being read and talked about. This was a first for most of us, and it was thrilling. Our stories were mentioned in class. Memes would spread virally across campus before anyone knew what viral memes were.
My guess is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate those conditions with a digital version of The DU. In the CougarEat, a physical newspaper competes mainly with textbooks and text messages for attention, and The DU will often win that battle. But once you’ve asked a reader to go online to access your content, they have the entire world of the Internet available to them, and a student paper will have trouble competing against, say, YouTube, CNN, and BCC.
I hope students continue to read The DU in the new format, and I hope it continues to play a role as a cultural hub. I know that the paper is susceptible to criticism for being a school-run publication, with layers of approvals and censorship, but that wasn’t actually my experience; we had about as much editorial freedom as I’ve had anywhere else, and many more available resources. When my friend Lauren Masters and I wanted to develop a cheeky supplement called The Bubble to poke fun at BYU culture, we got nothing but encouragement and material support from our faculty advisors. At the same time, we were given plenty of latitude to cover anti-war protests however we liked. Helen Thomas came to campus as a guest speaker, and was warmly received by the journalism department, even as students booed and walked out of her forum speech at the Marriott Center.
The DU serves as a reflection of mainstream conservative BYU culture, to be sure, but we also tried to challenge our readers and capture the variety of ideas swirling around campus.
But even more important than The DU’s role as a cultural hub is its role as a training ground for future bloggers, reporters, editors, publicists, and advertisers. The Universe imparts a visible skill to its trainees, one that I believe can have a real impact on public perceptions of the church. It’s good to have Mormons working in the media, and contributing their voices and values in editorial board meetings across the country. That has happened largely because BYU has supplied a steady stream of interns to Newsweek, TV news outlets, national newspapers, PR firms, and ad agencies. BYU has had remarkable success getting its journalism students placed in high-profile internships.
In large part, this success should be attributed to The DU. Overall, I found myself to be better prepared to enter the job market than the interns and entry-level reporters I was competing against in New York City. And I found the same to be true of interns I later hired from BYU versus other schools (including grad schools).
I hope that high level of training continues at BYU, whether it’s at The DU or the newly relaunched Student Review. And, like plenty of other nostalgic old farts, I pity the next generation of journalists with their ink-free fingers.